Happy New Beer

By Peter Bailey.

“The taste hit hard and, my God, it just kept going and going,” she said. Another beer virgin seduced by the provocative power of craft beer.

The beer beginner was beguiled by a tall, dark, handsome IPA at a private beer dinner in St. Albert recently. I was the beer expert du jour, matching food courses to beers of my choosing. As a special treat, I was able to finagle some growler jugs from St. Albert’s new craft brewery, Hog’s Head. I served their Baby Back Hops Red IPA and the Death by Pumpkin Amber Ale as guests arrived. My initial nervousness at starting with two amped-up, flavourful beers subsided as approving nods spread through the room. It is such a delight (and such a turn-around from years ago) that people are genuinely excited to try something different.

Hog’s Head Brewing is located near the Sturgeon River, just down the road from the Enjoy Centre and Big Lake. But this is no rustic rural brewery; this brewery is all business, located in an industrial park with welding and auto body shops for neighbours. When I visited, a big overhead door opened up to reveal brew master Bruce Sample, wearing Carhart-style overalls. Crammed in behind Bruce was the brewing equipment inherited from both Amber’s and Roughneck breweries. With two complete brewhouses, one with 14 hectolitre capacity, the other 28, Hog’s Head is thinking big, with a goal of 250,000 cases of beer produced in 2013.

Brew master Bruce Sample and managing partner Brian Molloy have many years of experience in the beer and beverage business. Bruce went to brew school years ago in Texas, and worked in the American beer biz as the hop-centric craft beer revolution unfolded. Brian was one of the originals at pioneering Tree Brewery in Kelowna, helping to launch Canada’s first modern IPA, Tree Hop Head IPA. Indeed, the Hog’s Head folks are true hop heads. Brian told me, “I will die on the sword of hops. I don’t believe in lagers. Hog’s Head is an ale house. I’ll shut down the brewery before I’ll make it a lager house.”

There is certainly room for another craft brewery. “Another brewery in the city will certainly generate a good bit of synergy,” says Neil Herbst, Alley Kat.

The beer dinner moved on from Hog’s Head beer. I paired each course with one less and one more adventurous beer. Guests loved the Duvel, a powerful Belgian strong pale ale, served from a giant three litre bottle with dates stuffed with bocconcini cheese wrapped in IPA-marinated bacon, grilled on a barbecue on a snowy patio. Many of the guests were beer beginners, but they generally preferred the more challenging beers. Even the uber-hop bomb Green Flash IPA was chosen over the mellower Muskoka Mad Tom IPA.

Change is afoot. Given a chance, people will try new things. My wish for 2013 is that more places in Edmonton give people more opportunities to take a chance. As Anaïs Nin wrote, “It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.” Happy New Beer.

hogsheadNew Brewery:

Hog’s Head Baby Back Hops Red IPA, St. Albert

This American IPA was the beer with the taste that wouldn’t quit. At 80 IBU it is a bit of a hop bomb, hopped with citrusy Centennial and Cascade hops. The hops are upfront from first taste while the malt comes in quickly to balance. Available at the Underground Tap & Grill.

yukonNew Style:

Yukon Cascadian IPA, Whitehorse

There is a bit of a brewhaha about this new beer style as there is debate about who should be able to use the word Cascadian (which refers to the Pacific Northwest). Regardless, Yukon has done a very nice take on the style, which combines the hoppy virtues of an American IPA with the roasty, malty flavour of a dark ale. Nicely balanced and ready for quaffing.

youngsNew Menu:

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, England

The Pourhouse Bier Bistro pioneered the beer-focused menu on Whyte Avenue. I helped co-owner Paul Charabin give the beer list a reboot, grouping beers into taste categories. Young’s classic dessert-friendly stout is a delicious standout in the “Dark and Roasty” category. Check out the Beerlicious cookbook for a tasty Chocolate Stout Cake recipe.


New Restaurant:

Granville Island Lions Winter Ale, Vancouver

Frank Olson was a beer guy back in the day, working for Big Rock and a fan of Granville. But years at the helm of his upscale Red Ox Inn pushed him to the dark side, changing him into a wine guy. With his new place, Canteen, beer guy Frank is back. Granville is back too, trying some new brews like this unusual vanilla-flavoured winter warmer.

balticNew Beer:

Alley Kat St. Portersberg Baltic Porter, Edmonton

Their barleywine is a real classic, so Alley Kat knows what to do with a big beer. Baltic porter is indeed a big beer, brewed strong enough to make the voyage from England to Russia in Victorian days. At 8.3% alcohol, Alley Kat’s version is strong, but also rich, malty and full-bodied with a taste of dried fruits and slight roasty finish.

cobblestoneNew Bar:

Mill St. Cobblestone Stout, Toronto

Mercer Tavern has become the go-to place for bearded downtown hipsters and suit-wearing oldsters alike. Mill St.’s new Irish dry stout with its nice hint of toasted walnuts and chocolate in the finish feels like it has been around for years and years, so it fits in perfectly with Mercer’s retro feel and old brick.

Peter Bailey tweets about beer and books and other crucial matters as @Libarbarian.